I really wanted to sleep in this morning.  I didn’t set my alarm, putzed around until midnight and then fell into a much needed sleep with the expectation of allowing only the rising sun to awaken me.

But I couldn’t sleep.

For the past three days I’ve been in Bentonville, Arkansas spending time with our Girls on the Run council there.  The three days were packed with joy, love and warmth.

On Thursday, the day of my arrival, I had the opportunity to visit with two schools.  Bellview greeted me with a a tunnel—in two rows they faced each other, their arms lifted and their hands clasped so I could run beneath them.  As I ran through they chanted:   Girls on the Run is so much fun!  They presented me with the most beautiful tutu, in their school colors of course.  I wore the tutu at my keynote talk the next day in honor of them and again in the airport as I had promised them I would do.  Their enthusiasm for the program and their open hearts filled me to the brim.

Then we moved on to Southside Elementary.

The girls there were in the middle of their practice 5k.  A very windy day, their little bodies  pushed through the strong headwinds and would then wrap around each lap with a fast and spirited run back again with the delicious tailwind pushing them from behind.  Every one of them finished.  Their coaches used streamers rolled out as finish line tape.  Every girl got to break through her own finish line, arms lifted, hearts soaring.

When Becca was done, she walked over to me, her face flushed, her hair blowing in the wind.

Becca is about 5 5’’—a tad taller than me.  She is in fifth grade.  She wears glasses, her eyes are tender and kind  with the slightest twinge of sorrow.  She pulled me aside.

“I want to tell you how much Girls on the Run means to me,”

“Why thank you Becca.”

“Yes, my mom is very sick and I can get very sad.  She has Huntington’s Disease.  When I think about that, I feel tears inside.  But when I come to Girls on the Run every one here lifts me up.  When I am down they help make it all a little bit better.”

We stood there for what felt like an eternity…the only words exchanged between us were those I heard in my own mind, recalling the tender touch and words of my own mother.  The wind whirled around us, its powerful embrace holding  us close to one another, in this moment, this experience, this memory I share with you now.

I hugged her.  She hugged me back.

The following night, the minor league baseball team hosted a Girls on the Run night at the local ball park.  I had the privilege to throw out the first pitch.

Catilin was there with her mom and her dad.   I met them both.  Her mom was in a wheelchair, quite thin, the illness had weakened her body, her ability to talk and walk, but her eyes…oh her eyes…alive, powerful, direct.

“Your daughter Becca was very open with me, today at Girls on the Run, about what’s going on at home.  I applaud you two, for raising such an empowered young woman.  Her ability to share her thoughts, fears and strengths as she did with me indicates a very strong sense of self.  She is quite a love to be reckoned with and as she grows up, I can only imagine the inspiration she will be to many others.”

Her Dad placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders.  “We’ve been very open with her.”  He paused, took a deep breath, looked Becca directly in the eyes and said,  “Frankly, we know no other way.”

The sun was setting, long brilliant rays of its last light, pierced the black clouds of an approaching rain.  I wanted to yell, scream, shout…pound my fists at the approaching storm.  Why?  Why?  Why?

But then…I did only that which I could do.  I asked Becca if she would help me throw out the first pitch.

Sure she said.  “I’d really like that.”

We threw out the first pitch,  Becca and I.   Becca’s mom and dad watched.  My guess is this will be her mom’s last trip to the ballpark.

As I write now, I think about the literally hundreds of thousands of girls involved in Girls on the Run and the stories unfolding in each of their young lives…their willingness to share them with me.  They  sprinkle them like the petals of broken flowers along the cobblestones of my own life’s path.   What a privilege it is for me to share this journey with them.  I am so, so grateful.

I am back home again, nestled comfortably under the blanket of my own life.  Every morning I light a candle and take a few moments to stare into its flame, watch it burn, flicker, shine.  And on this morning, I lovingly hold Becca in the power of this moment.  And I ponder…wonder…wish to know  why we often stop feeling so free to share ourselves…why we stop trusting…why we hold back these beautiful opportunities to connect with our sisters.  Why we are so afraid to say, “I am hurting, I am scared, I need you to help lift me up.”

In twenty years, Girls on the Run will be woven into the lives of literally millions of adult women.  From what I can tell, the world will be a different place then.  The shift is already occurring.  Becca will be all grown up.  And perhaps somewhere tucked into the many memories she will have of her mother, will be the moment we shared on the pitcher’s mound in Bentonville, Arkansas…and if my prayers are answered on this morning, while the candle burns here in my living room in Charlotte, NC,  she will with the same vulnerability she shared with me on the windy day of her practice 5k, seek out one of her sisters and say once again, “I am hurting, I am scared.  I need you to help lift me up.”

The world I live in begins with me.  Today is as good a day as any, to begin.